Towson University douses smoking on campus

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; 6:04 PM

Towson University first pushed its smokers out of campus buildings and into the great outdoors. Then, 30 feet away from buildings. Finally, last semester, it was off campus altogether.

Between classes, smokers rush to the state- or county-owned roads edging the Baltimore County campus. Not stepping off school property before lighting up can mean a $75 fine.

"On campus, it's a breath of fresh air - finally," said Steven Crudele, a former member of the student government who was part of the campus smoke-free task force. "When you are walking in and out of buildings, you don't have to walk through a cloud of smoke."

Towson is one of the first universities in the region to implement a strict, campuswide smoking ban. Similar initiatives are slowly picking up popularity at colleges across the country. Many university hospitals have such policies in place, as do several Maryland community colleges.

Such bans quickly clear the air at college campuses, allowing nonsmokers to study and learn, indoors and out, without the distraction or danger of secondhand smoke. The bans also try to speak directly to smokers, carrying the message that inhaling toxins is not healthy for anyone. That message is reinforced every time a smoker heads for the campus boundary.

Several colleges in the region have debated how best to balance the rights of smokers and nonsmokers in outdoor spaces, especially near residence halls or building entrances.

Often, this results in complex policies. American University doesn't allow smokers near residence hall entrances. The University of Maryland at College Park makes smokers stand at least 15 feet away from building entrances, windows and air ducts. The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech set the gap at 25 feet.

Towson President Robert L. Caret decided several years ago that he wanted to make the entire campus smoke-free, and he created a task force in 2007 to implement the idea. It hasn't been easy.

Towson is the second-largest public university in Maryland. It was founded as a teachers college, and it continues to produce more teachers than any other school in the state. Towson has almost 22,000 students and more than 2,000 faculty and staff members. About 4,500 students live in campus residence halls; the rest commute. Although more than 67 percent of the student population is white, Towson is one of the few universities nationwide that doesn't have a gap between its graduation rates for white and underrepresented minority students.

Last week, Caret announced that he is leaving Towson to become president of the University of Massachusetts System, where he will oversee five campuses and more than 65,000 students.

The task force debated designating a few spots on campus for smokers but decided to make it a campuswide ban.

"Either you are smoke-free or you are not," said Jerry Dieringer, task force co-chairman and the university's assistant vice president for student affairs.

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